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Fodor's Washington, D.C. 2014
Smithsonian National Zoological Park
Smithsonian National Zoological Park Review
Since 2000, the giant pandas, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, have been the zoo's most famous residents. Fans were concerned the adorable couple would be returning to China in 2011 when their contract ended, but a new agreement guarantees that Mei and Tian will stay in Washington until December 2015. This raises the possibility of another baby-panda watch. In 2005 the pandas had their first cub, Tai Shan, who was moved to China in 2010.
The National Zoo has much to offer in addition to the pandas. Carved out of rolling, wooded hills in Rock Creek Park, it houses 2,000 animals, representing 400 species, in innovative compounds showing animals in their native settings. Step inside the Great Flight Cage to observe the free flight of many species of birds; this walk-in aviary is open from May to October (the birds are moved indoors during the colder months). Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day you can catch the orangutan population traveling on the "O Line," a series of cables and towers near the Great Ape House that allows the primates to swing hand over hand about 35 feet over your head. One of the more unusual and impressive exhibits is Amazonia, an amazingly authentic reproduction of a South American rain-forest ecosystem. You feel as if you are deep inside a steamy jungle, with monkeys leaping overhead and noisy birds flying from branch to branch. Exciting new exhibits are always being added, such as the new Asia trail featuring sloth bears, fishing cats, red pandas, a Japanese giant salamander, clouded leopards, and other Asian species.
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Zoo was created by an Act of Congress in 1889, and the 163-acre park was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed the U.S. Capitol grounds and New York's Central Park. Before the zoo opened in 1890, live animals used as taxidermists' models were kept on the Mall.Visit early in the morning or late afternoon for your best chance of seeing active animals. Many sleep at midday.
- Address: 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Upper Northwest, Washington, DC 20008 | Map It
- Phone: 202/673–4800; 202/673–4717
- Hours: Grounds: Apr.–Oct., daily 6 am–8 pm; Nov.–Mar., daily 6–6; zoo buildings open at 10.
- Website: nationalzoo.si.edu
- Metro Cleveland Park or Woodley Park/Zoo.
- Location: Washington, D.C.
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